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Combat balance and the critical path: a suggestion/thought experiment


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A thought occurred this morning, while generally ruminating on CRPGs (been playing Tides of Numenara*), which I thought might be worth throwing out for general chewing over.

 

The balacing of combat encounters is sometimes observed to be made more difficult, because of the disparity between people only doing the critical path, and the completionists doing all the sidequests.

 

So... What about baking that into the difficulty settings? Such that you'd set "critical path only" or "completionist" (maybe something in the middle), which in the former case would disable either entirely the side quests (save for maybe a few short ones for colour, that did not involve combat) or perhaps rather just disable the XP rewards and heavily combat-based sidequests and configure the critical path difficulty based on that toggle (i.e. lower overall).

 

It would mean that the critical path would require more work to set-up encounters (since you'd b effectively adding a second difficultly level to the existing ones), but that you could then work on the basis that for the not-critical-path only, the main and the side-quest and optional battles could be balanced towards to upper end of the PC power scale.

 

Whether this idea would actually make things easier or more complex overall (though it would seem to be on the side of the latter more than the former), I don't know.

 

(You might have critical-path-only be mutually exclusive to the topo level of difficulty, perhaps, since that is generally for the keenies anyway - though thosae of you ladies, gentleman and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri who play on Path of the Damned do please correct me if that is not the case.)

 

It is, I feel, an interesting thought experiment, if nothing else.

 

 

 

As a corollary then, how many of us DO play through with every nook and cranny? (I myself am an inveterate completeionist!) Those of us who don't, how much aside from the critical path do you tend to do?

 

 

 

*[Aside]Which I think is the first CRPG to make the attempt to follow Planescape:Torment's unique feel, and does it pretty well - first time for a long time I can remember I didn't stop playing during supper. Though if you want combat (or don't want to have tons and tons and tons of reading, because if you thought PoE was verbose...!), you definitely want to stick with PoE, as it seems to have even less than PS:T. I don't consider either of those things to be flaws, but people's milage seems to vary.

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A thought occurred this morning, while generally ruminating on CRPGs (been playing Tides of Numenara*), which I thought might be worth throwing out for general chewing over.

 

The balacing of combat encounters is sometimes observed to be made more difficult, because of the disparity between people only doing the critical path, and the completionists doing all the sidequests.

 

So... What about baking that into the difficulty settings? Such that you'd set "critical path only" or "completionist" (maybe something in the middle), which in the former case would disable either entirely the side quests (save for maybe a few short ones for colour, that did not involve combat) or perhaps rather just disable the XP rewards and heavily combat-based sidequests and configure the critical path difficulty based on that toggle (i.e. lower overall).

 

It would mean that the critical path would require more work to set-up encounters (since you'd b effectively adding a second difficultly level to the existing ones), but that you could then work on the basis that for the not-critical-path only, the main and the side-quest and optional battles could be balanced towards to upper end of the PC power scale.

 

Whether this idea would actually make things easier or more complex overall (though it would seem to be on the side of the latter more than the former), I don't know.

 

(You might have critical-path-only be mutually exclusive to the topo level of difficulty, perhaps, since that is generally for the keenies anyway - though thosae of you ladies, gentleman and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri who play on Path of the Damned do please correct me if that is not the case.)

 

It is, I feel, an interesting thought experiment, if nothing else.

 

 

 

As a corollary then, how many of us DO play through with every nook and cranny? (I myself am an inveterate completeionist!) Those of us who don't, how much aside from the critical path do you tend to do?

 

 

 

*[Aside]Which I think is the first CRPG to make the attempt to follow Planescape:Torment's unique feel, and does it pretty well - first time for a long time I can remember I didn't stop playing during supper. Though if you want combat (or don't want to have tons and tons and tons of reading, because if you thought PoE was verbose...!), you definitely want to stick with PoE, as it seems to have even less than PS:T. I don't consider either of those things to be flaws, but people's milage seems to vary.

 

My first play through for sure was i for sure was trying to find everything and go everywhere. i have made subsequent playthoughs where my role was more defined and i didn't do certain things but still find myself doing 85% of content. So i didnt start from a place of completionist and more from theme and went from there. Simple example i played a berath priest who was kinda judge dredd, who would try to follow the law in that area and when i went to ethos temple and was told that raedric didnt want people in the temple i left it alone and didnt do it. Also i have played a wizard scientist who was looking for new science to stop death because he watch his family member die and couldn't help with his knowledge. So when i found out about Aufra's quest for the potion well i did it all the way until i got the potion and didnt give it to her (i mean i didn't even go back to her) because i was roling that i stole the potion to study it for myself and the only reason i even went on the quest is because my character was interesting in getting the potion and not really helping. This should have been an option fyi and maybe it should have given you a new potion. But i found when i did stuff like that even though i wasn't completing all quest possible it made my run feel more consistent. 

Edited by draego
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Competitionist here, can't help myself :p.

 

I think a lot of us fall somewhere in between the 'completionist' and 'critical path' only types, though. 

 

Which is also why I think it's not a good idea to (optionally? by default?) disable the side-quests.  It's one thing to consciously choose to avoid exploring every nook and cranny in the game (I gave up the last couple areas at the end in Dragon Age: Inquisition, for example), but it's completely another to miss out on opportunity to see them, because one just doesn't want to mess with the difficulty settings/options before jumping into adventure (current state of 'streamlined' player experience in Star Wars: The Old Republic, where all the side-quests are off by default).

 

I'd probably get behind the option to choose different xp tables to suit the different play-style approaches... (1000 vs 1330 etc. needed to level, for example). :yes:

Edited by oddrheia
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Not sure about that. PoE belongs to a genre that's expected to have side quests. If some people want to skip them... well they simply walk by, that's the entire point of side quests.

 

In Tyranny, since the main questline is very choice-heavy, the side quests are much more unconsequential ; but in PoE removing all these quests will make the world look empty.

It's a design choice regarding the core of the game, not something that can be set by a menu option.

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If they just level scale the critical path, give side quests of various challenge levels, and remove the level cap, it should all work out.

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Not sure about that. PoE belongs to a genre that's expected to have side quests. If some people want to skip them... well they simply walk by, that's the entire point of side quests.

 

In Tyranny, since the main questline is very choice-heavy, the side quests are much more unconsequential ; but in PoE removing all these quests will make the world look empty.

It's a design choice regarding the core of the game, not something that can be set by a menu option.

This. Do not disable any quests at all, simply have an additional 'completionist' checkbox that is used to dictate the level of xp scaling, problem solved.

 

Heck instead of a checkbox you could choose from some pre-defined settings that affect xp scaling: 'critical path', 'adventurer', 'completionist'. 

Edited by Koth
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So, the general concensus seems to be "bad idea!"

 

Which is fair enough; I was just tossing it out there. Being the aforementioned inveterate completionist, I really do have no idea about how much people who don't do that actually play through in a single pass; it'd be obviously something the devs would absolutely have to have some idea of before even considering trying to implement something like this.

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The devs are aware of the issue. IIRC, their approach is the following (sorry, can't remember where/when they stated this):

- main quests give more XP than side quests

- side quests tend to have more interesting item rewards than main quests

 

Doesn't make balancing trivial, but I feel this could be a reasonable middle ground.

Endure. In enduring, grow strong.

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Or how about just getting rid of ridiculously steep power curves? I really don't understand why people want to go for some weird fancy solution when a perfectly good simple and eloquent solution is available.

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The most important step you take in your life is the next one.

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The devs are aware of the issue. IIRC, their approach is the following (sorry, can't remember where/when they stated this):

- main quests give more XP than side quests

- side quests tend to have more interesting item rewards than main quests

 

Doesn't make balancing trivial, but I feel this could be a reasonable middle ground.

 

Personally I quite like the idea of having experience only awarded by critical path quests, and having side quests reward you primarily through interesting items and interesting stories. This would remove this problem altogether.

 

However I realise I am in the minority with this, and the solution you describe the devs describing is basically the compromise version of that solution.

 

Or how about just getting rid of ridiculously steep power curves? I really don't understand why people want to go for some weird fancy solution when a perfectly good simple and eloquent solution is available.

 

Honestly I wouldn't mind this, but for a lot of people a steep power curve is desirable. They want that feeling you get when you stomp on an enemy that was once the bane of your existence.

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Or how about just getting rid of ridiculously steep power curves? I really don't understand why people want to go for some weird fancy solution when a perfectly good simple and eloquent solution is available.

 

 

To build on this comment, is the idea of determining where the 'sweet spot' in the level range should be (levels where the game is challenging and characters feel sufficiently powerful), and to simply ensure that a large portion of the game occurs in that range.

 

If the game is going to take us up to level 20, then it might be the goal of the game design to make the sweet spot between levels 10 and 16.  Thus levels 1 to 10 have a steeper power curve and levels 10+ it begins to flatten out a bit.  That seems to be counter logical, but if abilities are now going to be more closely tied to time/ disruptibility, then the powerful feats/ spells can be tuned to that system.  

 

In doing this, the game can be designed so that critical path gamers can finish the game at level 12 and power-gamers/ completionists can finish at level 20, yet the end game scenarios remain relatively challenging for all.

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Or how about just getting rid of ridiculously steep power curves? I really don't understand why people want to go for some weird fancy solution when a perfectly good simple and eloquent solution is available.

 

Honestly I wouldn't mind this, but for a lot of people a steep power curve is desirable. They want that feeling you get when you stomp on an enemy that was once the bane of your existence.

 

 

**** those people. Messing the games challenge curve completely just to achieve one petty feeling is just crappy game design; it's not worth it no matter how you look at the thing.

The most important step you take in your life is the next one.

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